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Arizona Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett will ‘lean heavily’ on Mike Smith down the stretch

LISTEN: Dave Tippett- Coyotes head coach

The story of the 2014-15 Arizona Coyotes is really the story of Mike Smith.

Since opening night, the team’s record has mirrored the performance of their starting goaltender — each more than halfway down the path to a losing season.

Smith is in the midst of the worst season of his career statically. His 3.33 goals against average is the highest of his career and by far the highest since coming to Arizona in 2011. His .893 save percentage follows the same trend.

But there is a glimmer of hope.

Smith and the Coyotes emerged from late January’s All-Star break playing some of their best hockey of the season. Arizona is 3-1-2 since the break and has moved out of the NHL’s bottom three.

Smith is 2-1-2 with a 2.26 goals against average and a .931 save percentage in that time frame. Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett hopes it’s the start of a turnaround.

“He’s going to get a lot of playing time here,” Tippett told Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Friday. “The first half of the season really hasn’t gone very well for him — his stats are not great.

“So he’s going to get a great opportunity to see if he can work himself back to where he was last year and years before.”

Before this season, Smith posted two solid seasons in the crease after his sensational 2011-12 campaign leading the Coyotes to the Western Conference Final.

He’s had plenty of sustained success in a Coyotes uniform in the past, but his game this season has been very hit and miss.

“It’s just a struggle,” Tippett said. “He’ll have a couple good games and then he’ll have a real (bad) one (and) really takes a step back. Hopefully he’ll put a string of some good games together and get feeling good about what he’s doing.

“A goalie when he’s playing with confidence is always a better goalie, so hopefully that’s where we can get him to.”

It all starts with winning and stringing together multiple quality starts.

“I’m taking it one game at a time,” Smith told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Friday. “I think for parts of this season I thought I was back then the next game I was getting yanked. So I’m just taking it one game at a time and not worrying about what’s happened already.”

Instead, Smith is treating every game like a “fresh start” in hopes of returning to elite form.

Smith is signed for the next three seasons and is expected to carry the load between the pipes for the duration. The Coyotes go as Mike Smith goes and both have been successful as of late.

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